Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has slammed the lack of consultation over the threat to casualty services in Huddersfield and Calderdale.

Mr Burnham, who was Health Secretary in Gordon Brown’s government, said health chiefs had failed to make a clinical case for change.

He told a public question-and-answer session at the Queens Sports Club in Halifax that he would join the fight – and take the campaign to the heart of Westminster.

Health chiefs want to save £50 million by downgrading accident and emergency units at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary or Calderdale Royal Hospital.

They favour Huddersfield over Halifax but options include downgrading both units and creating a major trauma centre at Leeds.

Public consultation has been promised in the summer but Mr Burnham described the consultation so far as “pretty poor” adding: “These things have to be done very carefully and the authorities seem to have got off on the wrong foot and need to correct it very quickly.

“I will take what I’ve heard back to Westminster.”

Click below to watch Mr Burnham address the meeting

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Mr Burnham, the MP for Leigh, took questions from an invited audience of Labour politicians, trade unionists and campaigners.

He said he had seen no clinical case for closing A&E and said: “It seems to me they have not even begun to lay out a clinical case and if that does not exist this thing should be stopped immediately.”

Mr Burnham said public consultation was part of the NHS constitution and added: “People have the right to be properly consulted.

“It’s non-negotiable that there’s a proper process and that must happen.”

Mr Burnham said he wanted to see evidence that changes would improve services and save lives.

“Any change to local hospitals must have a rock solid clinical case and that case must be proved,” he said.

“If it can be demonstrated that lives would be saved and patient safety improved then someone in my position would have to listen to that.

“We could not stand in the way of progress for political reasons.”

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Mr Burnham said A&E services across the country were “in crisis” because of cuts elsewhere.

He said GP services were stretched and community health services were under pressure like never before due to council cuts.

“The last financial year was the worst ever for A&E,” he said. “The pressure has never stopped throughout the last 12 months and that’s a product of what happening in community care.

“Community services like district nurses have been cut and it’s difficult to get an appointment with your GP so where do people go? A&E.

“We are looking at unprecedented pressure and an almost permanent crisis.”

Mr Burnham said while he was proud of the last Labour government’s record on the NHS he admitted mistakes were made.

“I think we let the market in too far in the end,” he said. “Privatisation has been allowed to go too far and if we allow that to go on it will devour everything we value in the NHS.”

Mr Burnham said the NHS should be about “people not profit” and he said it was clear the changes were financially-driven.

Also at the meeting, chaired by Halifax MP Linda Riordan and Calder Valley Labour candidate Josh Fenton-Glynn, were councillors and community campaigners.

Clr Steve Sweeney, Calderdale Cabinet member for communities, had personal reasons for wanting to save A&E at Halifax.

His daughter Caitlin, 19, developed epilepsy after giving birth and lives in Todmorden.

“She has been to A&E many times in the last few months and if Halifax closes, it will be a 20-mile journey to Huddersfield,” he said.

“People in Todmorden would be most badly affected. The geography means that journey times are long.”

Retired lecturer Caroline Pinder, 60, also of Todmorden, was concerned that ambulance and paramedic services wouldn’t be able to cope if longer journey times became the norm.

“I want to know if something happens to me or my loved ones that responders and paramedics will start treating us straightaway and that we will get the best possible care.”

Mr Burnham said there were “so many questions to be answered” and added: “We have some concerns about Yorkshire Ambulance Service, the way they treat staff and the use of private 999 ambulances.

“If I was in Halifax and had a heart attack I wouldn’t want the ambulance turning up without the proper kit.”

Mr Burnham pledged to return to address a public meeting later.

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